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In 1st comments, Israel backs Ukrainian ‘sovereignty,’ with no mention of Russia

Statement from Foreign Ministry expresses support for ‘territorial integrity’ of Ukraine; Israeli ambassador to Kyiv says he is prepared ‘with all options’ for potential evacuation

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a joint news conference with Estonian President Alar Karis, following their talks in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 22, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a joint news conference with Estonian President Alar Karis, following their talks in Kyiv, Ukraine, on February 22, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

In its first public statement on the ongoing crisis between Russia and Ukraine, Israel’s Foreign Ministry expressed “concern” over the “serious escalation,” but stopped short of naming Russia or condemning its actions.

“Israel shares the concern of the international community regarding the steps taken in eastern Ukraine and the serious escalation in the situation,” said a Foreign Ministry statement issued Wednesday afternoon. “Israel hopes for a diplomatic solution which will lead to calm, and is willing to help if asked.”

Israel also said it “supports the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Ukraine,” and once again expressed concern for Israeli citizens and the Jewish community in the affected regions.

“Israel is ready and willing to immediately transfer humanitarian assistance to Ukraine according to its needs and is in contact with the Ukrainian authorities regarding the matter,” the statement said, without making any mention of Russia. “Israel is continuing to engage in dialogue with its partners on ways to get the diplomatic efforts back on track.”

Hours earlier, Ukrainian diplomats said they were still waiting for Israel to weigh in after the US and European nations strongly condemned Russia for moving troops into Luhansk and Donetsk.

“We are waiting for any kind of official reaction from the Israeli side, because there is no reaction, nothing,” a spokeswoman at Ukraine’s embassy in Tel Aviv told The Times of Israel Wednesday morning. “We just really hope that they will do something that sounds the same as our Western allies.”

A military vehicle drives on a road as smoke rises from a power plant after shelling outside the town of Schastia, near the eastern Ukraine city of Lugansk, on February 22, 2022. (Aris Messinis/AFP)

Ukraine has not conveyed any official complaint to Israel about its silence, she said. “They know that we are waiting, so why should we say again and again and again?”

Despite its deep strategic relationship with the US, Israel maintains robust ties with Moscow, especially over military coordination in Syria.

Michael Brodsky, Israel’s envoy in Ukraine, told The Times of Israel that he had not received any official criticism from Ukraine on the lack of condemnation of recent Russian moves to this point.

On Tuesday, US President Joe Biden ordered heavy financial sanctions against Russian banks and oligarchs, stepping up the West’s confrontation with Moscow, even as Russian lawmakers authorized Russian President Vladimir Putin to use military force outside their country.

US President Joe Biden speaks in the East Room of the White House about Russian military activity near Ukraine, on February 22, 2022, in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

The president joined the 27 European Union members who unanimously agreed on Tuesday to levy their own initial set of sanctions targeting Russian officials over actions in Ukraine. Germany also announced it was halting the process of certifying the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia — a lucrative deal long sought by Moscow, but criticized by the US for increasing Europe’s reliance on Russian energy.

Getting to work in Lviv

Brodsky spoke to The Times of Israel from Israel’s temporary consular office in the western city of Lviv.

“We’ve officially started working, started receiving applications for Israelis who need consular assistance,” he said. “We are here, and we are planning to be here for the next, at least, a few days.”

“We don’t know how long we are going to stay,” he said.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid instructed all embassy staff on Thursday to make the move due to fears of an all-out Russian invasion that would target the Ukrainian capital. They set up shop in an office building owned by Israel’s honorary consul in Ukraine, the same building Israel temporarily opens around Rosh Hashana to help deal with the thousands of Israeli pilgrims making their way to the Ukrainian city of Uman.

A Ukrainian border guard officer watches as a police dog sniffs a truck at the Ukrainian-Belarusian state border checkpoint Novi Yarylovychi, Ukraine, on February 21, 2022. (Oleksandr Ratushniak)

Other western nations, including the US and UK, moved their embassy staff to Lviv a week earlier.

Israelis have been calling and showing up to the Lviv office to get their documents in order before flying to Israel, said Brodsky.

“We see much more interest from the Israelis,” he explained, adding that this week there has been a noticeable rise in Ukrainian Jews inquiring about making aliyah.

The embassy provided two phone lines for Israelis in Ukraine to reach consular staff. As of Wednesday morning, 4,300 Israelis have left Ukraine in the past two weeks, including 300 Israelis on 3 flights on Tuesday.

Israel’s Ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky. (Israeli Embassy in Ukraine)

Israeli diplomats are nearly done with plans for a potential evacuation of up to 200,000 Ukrainian Jews by air or land, said Brodsky.

“We have made almost all necessary preparation already. We visited the crossing points. We are in touch with airports both in Kyiv and Lviv.”

The embassy is prepared for a range of evacuation scenarios. If Ukraine’s skies are still open, there is a plan to evacuate Jews on regular commercial flights and rescue flights from Kyiv.

If that is not possible, there is also an air evacuation plan from Lviv.

If the skies are closed, Brodsky said that Israel is ready to evacuate Jews and Israelis by bus to Poland, and possibly Romania and other neighboring countries from Lviv. Poland is the closest border, less than 400 kilmeters (249 miles) from Lviv by car.

“All the options are on the table,” said Brodsky.

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